May 19, 2009 - Brooklyn Law School’s Centennial Professor of Law Roberta S. Karmel was the keynote speaker at the University of Tennessee Law School’s hooding ceremony on May 8, 2009 in Knoxville. UT’s Arts and Sciences’ graduation simultaneously featured East Tennessee native and acclaimed musician Dolly Parton, who was presented with an honorary doctorate degree.
Professor Karmel’s speech, “Life at the Center: Reflections on My Career,” focused on her life as a woman in pursuit of her career as a lawyer and a regulator with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She spoke about the difficulties of breaking into the legal field as a woman in the 1960s, saying of her time at the New York Regional Office of the SEC: “I had to prove I deserved my job by working hard and being fair. I was much younger than the investigators who worked for me, but they respected me because I had a professional degree, even though most of them believed a married woman, and certainly a mother, should not work.”
She was finally accepted by a law firm as an associate at Willkie Farr & Gallagher – a feat of which she said, “It was much harder to be a woman in a law firm than it had been to be a woman on the staff of the SEC.” She went on to become a partner in another firm in 1972, and then went back to the SEC – as its first female Commissioner – in 1977. She also had four children with her late first husband and then became step-mother to two more children with her second husband. When Karmel joined Brooklyn Law School in 1986, she was delighted to find herself in an institution that had “more women law professors than any law school in the country.”
Karmel has taught securities law for over 20 years at Brooklyn Law, where she also serves as co-director of the Dennis J. Block Center for the Study of International Business Law. An internationally recognized expert in international and domestic securities regulation, she is widely called upon to teach and lecture all over the world on this subject. She studied the harmonization of securities laws in the European Union as a Fulbright Scholar and is a widely published author. In addition to numerous scholarly articles on securities regulation and international securities law, she also authors a monthly column on securities regulation that appears in the New York Law Journal. Karmel’s professional activities, affiliations and awards are numerous. In August 2008, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession presented her with a 2008 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award in recognition of her path-breaking accomplishments. She is a trustee of the Practising Law Institute, a member of the American Law Institute, a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and vice-chair of the International Coordinating Committee of the ABA’s Business Law Section.
Karmel encouraged the new law graduates from UT to become the best lawyers they can be – despite challenges from the economy or gender stereotypes. “For much of my career I was the only woman in the room, or at best, one of the very few women, and I did not have any role models for the life I was leading,” she said. “Some of you may also lack role models and may find the options available to you (or not available) confusing. The only advice I can give to you is do not be discouraged, but push on to realize your dreams.”
Read more about Professor Roberta Karmel .